Zenith showed up to Baselworld 2018 with a duffle bag packed full of new models and a few unique updates to their Pilot’s Watch collection. The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Ton-Up Black Chronograph is the latter. Here we have our hands on the model to discuss some of the more nuanced points about this “Super-Chill” (their words, not mine) addition to the line – mainly that it’s motorcycle-inspired.
In 2016, Zenith released the first iteration of this watch dedicated to Café Racers (stripped down motorcycles capable of exceeding 100mph) and their community, named the “Ton-Up Boys,” with the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Ton-Up Stainless model. Featuring an arguably unique “aged steel” case material and faded dial, the watch apparently sold well despite what I would have predicted. Bringing a motocross inspired model to its big crowned pilot watch collection was an interesting (and to some, downright confusing) decision – and to be honest, I don’t feel it was necessary. I can’t deny that the watch looks cool, masculine, and will definitely appeal to certain crowds, but the inclusion of “Pilot” on the dial really throws off the inspiration for a watch specifically targeting a community of heavily involved motorcycle enthusiasts.
That said, let’s move on to the watch, starting with the case. The 45mm case utilized the same “aged steel” style as its predecessor. Not to be confused with a black-PVD coating, the case comes standard with a surface layer of patina that fits the style of the watch quite well and the remarkably thin 14.25mm sits well on the wrist. The oversized crown and pushers have a serrated texture and are aged to match the case. Overall, the case blends together well, even if it is a bit large.
The dial has received an update in the way of a jet-black satin finish. That, paired with the white color offset makes this watch superbly legible. The lume-filled indices and sub-register markers utilize the standard Zenith Pilot font with white Super-LumiNova filling in-lieu of the off-white faux-patina of the previous iteration – something I find more attractive. Additionally, the update features gold plated hands instead of steel, and that makes the large cathedral hands really pop against the matte black dial. No doubt, this watch was designed around legibility.
Inside the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Ton-Up Black Chronograph is Zenith’s 5Hz El Primero 4069 calibre – arguably one of the strongest affordable chronograph contenders in the industry. Clicking that pusher and listening to the chronograph engage and run is among one of the sweetest sounds to enthusiasts who get their hands on an El Primero. The ability to time 1/100th of a second may prove to be a useful utility for Café Racers, but I think it will be largely overlooked by purchasers who pick this up because the watch is a closed caseback – a major party fowl for such a gorgeous movement. Additionally the watch has a generous 50-hour power reserve.
For the strap, Zenith opted for their oily nubuck black leather with an inside rubber lining for comfort and longevity. Apparently it’s meant to achieve a “black out” effect and exude a resolutely “stealth-biker attitude.” The strap has white stitching, a titanium buckle, and actually looks good on the watch – kitschy marketing verbiage aside.
Overall, I don’t think these will sit in Zenith’s stock, though I largely attribute that to the fact that I don’t know if the people buying these will care what the inspiration is. I can’t deny that the “Black-Out” nature of this model is just as masculine as stripping down motorcycles to make them go faster. I can’t help but see a headfirst, headstrong, leather-jacket-wearing “bro” with deep enough pockets to buy this watch AND store his vape cavalier-ing into a Zenith boutique and loudly exclaiming he’s here for the “badass of all badasses” and slamming a roll of cash wrapped in a skull chain down on the counter. You can’t exactly go wrong with a Zenith watch in terms of quality and wanting something a little different, so this might just be the watch for that.
Price for the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Ton-Up Black Chronograph will come in at $7,200. zenith-watches.com